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Let's Get Personal 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published July 26, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that yours truly is a veteran news junkie. Always have been since dear old dad made us watch Huntley-Brinkley every night, when that nice old man Dwight Eisenhower was president.

But lately, things have changed. It's been six weeks since we've watched the nightly network news. Usually catch Ch. 3 at 6 p.m., but instead of switching to the ABC or NBC news broadcasts at 6:30 p.m., we've been turning off the TV and taking an evening spin on the two-wheeler. It's become a habit. No more network news watching.


Because we simply cannot take any more of the televised scenes of senseless, brutal murder of innocents that fills those newscasts every evening. Murder that most Americans, including yours truly, realize did not have to happen. A war of choice.

The inescapable, depressing fact is that the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq was orchestrated by a corrupt and deceitful regime that fabricated the reasons for war. The Bushies successfully pulled off a propaganda campaign so masterful that even the Nazis of yesteryear would applaud!

But with the release this week of Washington Post writer Thomas E. Ricks' Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, full confirmation of our worst fears has arrived in black and white. President George W. Bush and his team of calculating extremists and professional liars have done more damage to America than any White House in our nation's history.

Fiasco details how the Bushies deliberately twisted and determinedly ignored the actual Iraq intelligence they received. The result has been horrendous bloodshed and what Mr. Ricks forecasts will be a U.S. military presence in Iraq for the next 10 to 15 years. It reads like a super-depressing horror story, but, unfortunately, it's a scholarly work of nonfiction.

So what do we do?

The first step is the hardest. We have to stop denying the truth, stop keeping it all inside. A whole lot of other people see the same dark clouds on the horizon. Trust me.

So if you're unable to stop thinking about the looming extinction of human life as we know it -- by global warming or World War III or both -- take heart! You are definitely not alone, mes amis.

For confirmation, we double-checked with Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, a Vermonter who on a weekly basis has had more face-to-face meetings and discussions with average Vermonters over the last 16 years than anyone else we know.

Congressman Sanders held a presser Monday to get the word out that the nutrition program for low-income seniors he's championed for the last five years was not cut from the budget, as the Bush White House wanted. There are openings. Call the Vermont Foodbank.

This reporter also wanted to conduct a depression check. Are we in a tiny minority, or are a lot of Vermonters feeling blue about prospects for the future?

Ol' Bernardo nodded. He's heard it all before from folks at his frequent town meetings around the Green Mountains.

"I think you have a president and an administration that is the most reactionary and incompetent in my lifetime," said Sanders. "The idea that a president would talk about eliminating a program which feeds low-income senior citizens!" he scoffed. "Yes, that is depressing."

"Health care?" asked Sanders rhetorically. "Six million more Americans have lost coverage."

"Environment?" gasped the frontrunner in the race to replace Jim Jeffords in the U.S. Senate come January. "We have an administration that even today refuses to acknowledge the severity of global warming."

"Foreign policy?" he continued. "Look what's going on in Iraq today. How can you turn on the TV or read the newspaper without getting your heart broken? It's really beyond belief."

"What I tell people is, you don't have time to be depressed," said Ol' Bernardo. "You've got to stand up and fight back. And I think the American people are catching on."

In fact, Sanders said he's seeing signs of change among the populi.

"People are not just depressed," said Bernie, "they are angry. They want to see this country be the kind of country we know we can become, and that does not include throwing low-income senior citizens off a nutrition program while you give tax breaks to millionaires. It means being a country which the entire world respects, so that we can go into the Middle East and bring peace into the region."

Makes this November's election important, eh?

"It's enormously important," replied Bernie, breaking into a grin. "There's never been an election you've heard of where a politician does not say, 'This is the most important election.' But, you know what? This is the most important election."

We agree with him. How about you?


Tarrant Update -- We just caught Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant on Ch. 3's Tuesday Noon News. We'd missed his 10 a.m. "press availability." It turned out to be a staged endorsement by a bunch of "veterans." Nice clip of Richie Rich promising he would never desecrate an American flag. Whew!

Funny, but just last week WGOP, er, WCAX-TV declined to cover Candidate Sanders' "press availability," at which he picked up the endorsement of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont.

Balanced coverage, eh?

Also, Richie Rich deserves recognition for last week's "Quote of the Week."

In a press release attacking Sanders for allegedly not being a staunch enough supporter of Israel, Tarrant stated, "Israel deserves a dependable voice in the United States Senate."

Hey, Richie, what about Vermont deserving a dependable voice in the U.S. Senate? One that addresses issues more serious issues than flag desecration.

Think about it.

After All That! -- Bummer! Arizona Sen. John McCain was unable to attend the Saturday "Town Meeting with John McCain" that Republican congressional candidate Martha Rainville hosted. McCain, who knows what it's like to get shot down in a airplane, didn't touch down at the Rutland Regional Airport because of weather conditions -- a big rainstorm was blowing through at the time.

Thanks to Internet weather radar, yours truly guessed right that McCain's plane wouldn't be able to land. We stayed home and watched Floyd Landis take the Tour de France, and Tiger Woods do likewise in the British Open.

However, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Richard Tarrant did attend, and was even allowed to say a few words to the disappointed audience seated on the gym floor at the College of St. Joseph. Richie is, after all, at home on gym floors.

This after an unusually bruising public battle earlier in the week between the McCain and Tarrant staffs.

McCain advisor Mike Dennehy dropped a dime on Tarrant's attempt to hone in on the McCain-Rainville spotlight. Dennehy told Vermont reporters that in no way, shape or form was McCain coming to Vermont to tout Tarrant. The visit was all about Marvelous Martha and only Marvelous Martha!

Turns out Dennehy and Tarrant's campaign manager Tim Lennon go back a ways. They were teammates on the 2000 McCain for President team. Months ago, Mr. Lennon told us he hoped to be back on the McCain train in 2008 after filling the gap in his campaign schedule in 2006 with Tarrant's longshot candidacy.

Looks like Tim's plans for 2008 may be on hold, eh?


Tortigate Update -- Strange world. The Vermont Democratic Party whiffed when it came to Natural Resources Secretary Tom Torti's attempt to wear two hats simultaneously -- Vermont chief environmental officer, and Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce president and chief cheerleader for the Circ Highway.

Instead, the Democrats obsessed over Gov. Jim Douglas' appointment of former campaign manager and advisor Neale Lunderville to replace Dawn Terrill as Secretary of Transportation.

Transportation has long been a post where it's who you know, not what you know. At least Young Neale, the Boy Wonder of 21st-century Vermont politics, has had more personal contact with our transportation agency than did a few Democrats who served there under Govs. Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean.

What the Dems missed, however, our distinguished environmentalists have zeroed in on. In a Tuesday letter to Gov. Douglas, Chris Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation, Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment and Drew Hudson from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group all charge Sec. Torti has clearly violated several sections of the Governor's "Executive Code of Ethics."

They note the code "prohibits an employee" from taking "any official action that materially advances the interest of any entity (except the State of Vermont) with which the Appointee is actively seeking employment."

Torti applied for the LCRCC post in April. Earlier, CLF made a public-records request for any documents showing he had walled himself off, as required, from issues and items that were on the Chamber's agenda.

They got zilch.

The tree-huggers have a potential hot one here. Too bad the Democrats are fixated on the Boy Wonder, eh?

As for an administration response, Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs did not pull his punches.

"Tom Torti will be stepping down as Secretary in a few days and has already been walled off from the Agency's regulatory responsibilities," Gibbs told "Inside Track."

"This is just more hogwash nonsense from three extreme organizations that prefer conflict over collaboration," said Young Jason (he turns 30 next month). "They're willing to say and do anything that might create the illusion that they're even somewhat effective or relevant."

Stay tuned.


Showing One's Age -- Story in the news this week about Burling -ton's long-planned Southern Connector. No other uncompleted road project on Earth has been written about as much.

The Connector, first proposed in 1965, was supposed to give automobiles swift, four-lane access from downtown's lakefront to the I-189 Interstate exchange by cutting through a derelict, swampy, wooded no man's land along the banks of the austere and abandoned Pine Street Barge Canal. The old canal is a 19th-century relic of an earlier, pre-trucking age in Burlington, when the boats on Lake Champlain transported cargo.

In the 20th century, a coal-gasification plant operated near the canal until 1965. The facility's hazardous waste -- coal tar sludge -- was simply dumped in the adjacent swampland.

In late 1979, yours truly landed in Burlington. Got a place on Marble Avenue, close to Pine Street. Didn't take long for the neighborhood kids to introduce us to the mysteries of the Barge Canal site. It was where they went to smoke and drink beer.

Incidentally, today the Barge Canal swamp is a protected nature-walk area with a lovely, self-guided tour.

Back in the summer of 1980, we learned from local news reports that the city's big plans for the Southern Connector were nearing fruition.

Consciousness about hazardous waste was a bit different back in 1980 than it is today. To state highway officials, the only problem with the Barge Canal area was that the soil wasn't stable enough to support the road. As designed, the highway would bisect a two-thirds-of-a-mile strip that officials estimated contained 200,000 cubic yards of "muck."


"Muck is muck," said the Agency of Transportation's top engineer in response to our inquiry. Not only had the state environmental agency not tested the Pine Street "muck," the Agency of Environmental Conservation did not even own the equipment needed to conduct such testing!

On October 21, 1980, the Vanguard Press published the first of a lengthy series about that "muck" and its impact on mucking up the Southern Connector. Here's the lead:

Vermont's worst hazardous waste dump sits on the shores of Lake Champlain. And if the City of Burlington has its way, a four-lane highway called the Southern Connector will be built right through the middle of it.

Since the state wasn't interested in testing the muck, the alternative weekly footed the bill. When one learns that muck contains a host of hazardous hydrocarbons such as toluene and benzene, as well as cyanide and other heavy metals, one tends to look at it differently.

We also found a local teenager who had developed boils and a rash on his back after falling into the canal and hitting the "mucky" bottom. In response to the Vanguard Press series, a neighborhood citizens group formed. The Department of Health fenced off the entire area.

Federal officials quickly sat up and took note, too. Vermont's senior U.S. Senator at the time, Republican Robert T. Stafford, was the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. And in the wake of the Love Canal mess in Niagara Falls in the late 1970s, Stafford's committee was paying very serious attention to the hazardous-waste issue.

The first "Superfund" bill was in the works, and chief sponsor Stafford wanted a Vermont site to add to the first Superfund waste-site cleanup list.

Burlington's Pine Street Barge Canal got that honor. Its cleanup became a cause celèbre. Meanwhile, the Southern Connector faded from consciousness.

Fast-forward 26 years. Some things have changed. The color of my hair, for example. And we're typing this on a thing called a "computer keyboard" rather than a typewriter.

But some things haven't changed. Burlington's Southern Connector remains unbuilt. And with mounting criticism of the latest rather awkward, downsized redesign, it looks like some things never will change.

Wider bike lanes?


Correction -- Last week, we inadvertently referred to the pope as Italian.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is German.

What next, a Polish pope?

Just kidding.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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